Barbara (review)

Barbara yellow light Nina Hoss

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Barbara is a doctor in 1980s East Germany. Something she did — we’re never quite sure what — resulted in an “incarceration,” and now she’s been exiled from Berlin to a rundown rural hospital… though, to be fair, things were probably pretty rundown in the GDR’s slice of Berlin, too. Her new medical coworkers in these backwater “provinces” are being punished for their own misdeeds, and an oppressive sense of resignation and apathy hangs over what should be a place of healing and positivity. Mood is the primary concern of respected German filmmaker Christian Petzold, who won the Silver Bear for Best Director for Barbara at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, yet the odd mutedness and puzzling lack of urgency here frustrates our attempts at full engagement with Barbara’s plight, which we learn, as the film slowly unfurls, revolves around a plan to escape permanently to Denmark. Petzold and his star, Nina Hoss, create some creepily effective individual moments of Orwellian horror as Stasi spies hover always on the periphery, once making their presence and power known in ways deeply disturbing to us and deeply unnerving for Barbara, and at every turn there are unsettling reminders of the everyday dehumanizations of totalitarianism. Yet the film resides somewhere in an unsatisfying borderland between drama and thriller, never quite catching fire as either. And the moral quandaries of this immoral time and place — as the one Barbara finds herself mired in over a teenaged patient (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), an escapee from a work camp that Barbara deems an “extermination camp” — never find more than disappointingly convenient resolution.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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